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Case Study: Meditation on Exhaustion by Tom Taylor

Meditation on Exhaustion is an example of sculpture that summarises some of the ideas we've learned about the history and theories on modern sculpture
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Let’s look at a single example to think a bit more about how the direction and form of sculpture changed after the Second World War. This is Meditation on Exhaustion by Thomas Taylor. Observing the work from the bottom of the hill, we can see that it is several welded pieces of steel which sit close to the ground. From the walkways where people pass by, it almost goes unnoticed as it blends in with its surroundings. This sculpture moves away from the monumental tradition that was popular before the wars. It does not commemorate any single person or event nor does it sit in a dedicated, reverential space like a plaza or square.
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As we start to look closer and move around the piece, we can make out a semi-abstracted figure two long legs, a torso and a large plate at its top that might be a head. The title, Meditation on Exhaustion, suggests a narrative this figure has come to lay down and rest for a moment. But this figure could represent anyone you, me, or a student who has just emerged from a long and difficult exam. It reflects on a universal experience tiredness. The everyday quality of this piece again moving away from grand narratives of history - shows the way that sculpture came to embody a different set of concerns after the wars ways of capturing universal human experiences and emotions.
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The artist, Thomas Taylor, also tests the set definition of sculpture. Parts of the steel have been painted, creating a connection between sculpture and painting. The use of welded steel synthesises a material mainly used in architecture and transposes it into an art material.

In this video, we’ll use an example from the York sculpture collection to summarise some of the lessons we’ve covered in the previous activities on the history and theories of modern sculpture.

This is also an example of how we can combine our direct encounter with theoretical contexts. This reveals an important and unique aspect of art history: how to transform a direct experience of artwork into a verbal or written description.

Art history relies on direct encounters with works of art, actually going and seeing objects in person. Art historians have to deal with artworks firsthand and in person.

However, this section will help you to combine the direct visual analysis skills we’ve developed so far with written critical texts and images.

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Modern Sculpture: An Introduction to Art History

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